the Maronite Church in Australia
The first Lebanese Maronites had probably arrived in Australia by 1850. Those first emigrants seeking to practice their faith, quickly became a part of local Catholic communities.
By 1888, there were sufficient Maronites to support the need for Maronite priests, who were starting to arrive on Australian shores. In that year, the first permanent priest, Fr Kairouz arrived in Adelaide, where he lived and served until 1929. The Maronite community in Sydney was also growing in number and influence and after the arrival of Frs Yazbek and □ahdah in 1893, the first Maronite Parish of St Maroun’s in Redfern, New South Wales, was established on 10 January 1897.
From 1901, and against the context of White Australia policy, only those with family already in Australia could emigrate from the Middle East. Accordingly, the Maronite community remained small, and based around a limited number of families from a small selection of villages, chiefly from the North of Lebanon.
By the mid-1900s, emigration started again and communities began growing and organising themselves in village or family associations, providing opportunities and venues for their young people, in particular, to meet. While the Maronites were more than capable of mixing with the wider society in workplaces, shops, schools, and churches, they felt the need for and were drawn to a social and extended-family life which better preserved and promoted Maronite values and customs.
The need for even more Maronite churches and priests was becoming increasingly imperative. In Melbourne, the Maronite community appealed to Lebanon, and in November 1955 Fr Paul ElKhoury arrived. Our Lady of Lebanon, Carlton, Victoria, was consecrated on 16 August 1959.
In Sydney, under Monsignor Boutros Ziade, who was at St Maroun’s from 1963-1973, the church premises at Redfern were expanded.
The Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family arrived in 1968, and established the first Maronite Primary school in Australia at St Maroun’s in Redfern. The building of Our Lady of Lebanon Church, Harris Park, New South Wales, also began. The foundation stone was laid on 22 March 1970 by Cardinal Gilroy and Monsignor Ziade. The school of Our Lady of Lebanon was blessed and opened in a hall on 10 December 1972.
On 6 February 1972, the Lebanese Maronite Order of Monks arrived. The Order found premises at Highclere Avenue, Punchbowl, New South Wales, and started construction on the building that would become the Church of St Charbel – the first outside of Lebanon, at a time when Charbel had been beatified, but not yet canonised.
Also in 1972, the Maronite community in Adelaide welcomed the arrival of Fr Joseph Ndaira on 25 September, to establish and serve the Maronite community of South Australia as its first parish priest.
It was against this background that the establishment of a Maronite Eparchy or Diocese with a Bishop was sought, and on 13 July 1973, the Maronite Eparchy of Australia was established under the name of St Maroun, and the first Maronite Bishop elected.
This historic event in the life of the Maronite community opened a new chapter that marked the significance of the mission in this land and the importance of the Antiochian Syriac Eastern Identity of our Maronite Church.
Mass celebrated at St Maron’s Adelaide, SA.
Antonine Sisters Child Care Centre, VIC, 1988